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Bridging the Old and the New

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

“New” wars in the Global South are characterized by their hybrid nature. They typically involve a variety of non-state actors, institutions, and stakeholders with equally varied motives and concerns, and highlight a chasm between modern and traditional approaches to conflict resolution. In fact, many contemporary large-scale violent conflicts are waged within societies where modern state-centric approaches to peacebuilding have proven ineffective. More traditional approaches, which evolve organically and are practiced within particular societies over long periods of time, provide for more customary processes of conflict prevention, transformation, and reconciliation. As such, they challenge us to confront the chasm, acknowledge the hybridity, and see their potential utility.

As German political scientist Volker Boege has found, traditional approaches are often credited with legitimacy by the communities in which they are employed, and offer remedies for current situations of state fragility or collapse. These approaches to conflict resolution appear to be more sensitive to the ‘slowness’ of peacebuilding in the Global South, characterized by process-oriented (as opposed to agreement-oriented) dispute resolution and the involvement of a broad range of interested stakeholders. In addition, Boege argues that traditional approaches recognize and address the psychological and spiritual experiences of conflict, dimensions that are often overlooked in Western practice.

As for their limits, Boege posits that traditional approaches are often circumscribed by a limited sphere of applicability. As they are tailored to address conflicts that arise within a given community-based context, they often do not provide for universal strategies or solutions. Further, they are often driven by the maintenance of the status quo, rather than progress and change. As such, they do not necessarily enforce termination of violence in the long-term, and often diverge from democratic values and the fundamental principles of human rights. As a result, they are prone to abuses that foster injustice.

Overall, Boege encourages approaches for conflict resolution to overcome the prevailing state-centric perspective, and recognize that beyond the state there is a host of other actors and institutions with customary means of maintaining order and controlling violence. This variety precipitates unique forms of conflict and conflict transformation practice that blend modern state-centric, pre-modern traditional, and post-modern motives and factors.

Boege, V. (2006). Traditional approaches to conflict transformation—potentials and limits. Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation. Available: (Accessed: 03-01-12).


Christine Webb

Christine Webb is a doctoral student in Psychology at Columbia University. Broadly, her research interests include reconciliation, individual differences, evolution, and motivation. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Emory University, where she studied the social behavior of brown capuchin monkeys for two years. The following year, she worked as… MORE >

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